photos by Dawn at Nicoli Productions

The Land of Discovery

library_1With the second largest circulation in the entire San Diego County Library system, the San Marcos Library welcomes between 800 and 1,000 community members through its doors on a daily basis. The library has grown considerably in terms of materials, programs, and number of patrons since it first opened in a small trailer near the old City Hall. Through all the changes, one thing has remained constant – the branch’s dedication to giving patrons of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to learn and explore. We spoke with Branch Manager Ruth Ketchum about the San Marcos Library’s enthusiatic staff members, engaging programs for all ages, and exciting technological evolution.

Q&A with Branch Manager Ruth Ketchum

Which specific areas does the library serve?
The City of San Marcos and surrounding areas of San Diego County.

library_ketchumWhat is your current role at the library? What do you enjoy most about your job?
I’m the branch manager. I have an opportunity here to serve a great, dynamic, and diverse community; I really enjoy meeting and assisting San Marcos customers with what they want to learn and discover. People here are kind and respectful to each other, creative, and lots of fun. It’s a real pleasure. I enjoy trying out new ideas and connecting people with opportunities.

How has the library changed or evolved over time?
It’s become more innovative, proactive, and community-centered. People and their reading interests are more diverse, and most formats have changed. Information delivery is much faster, more efficient, and global. Library staff moved from being gatekeepers of knowledge to opening doors to learning and the world of ideas and cultures for all.

Branch Manager At-A-Glance

Name: Ruth Ketchum
Community: San Marcos
Education: Masters in Library Science, University of Chicago. Bachelor of Arts, Pitzer College.
Hobbies and Interests: Art, music, and yes, I like to read…
Favorite Library Program: When the Lion Dancers come through the front door for the Lunar New Year!

library_2library_3What sets the San Marcos Library apart from other San Diego public libraries?
We’re the second busiest library in the entire County system; San Marcos people like to read! We’re open seven days a week, and during the recession we added hours instead of cutting them. All of our programs are free of charge, and it’s free to check anything out, including DVD movies. Our programs are innovative and community-based for all ages, not just for kids. People say we are friendly and helpful, and they can find what they are looking for here. Our staff speak many languages. We are part of the San Diego County Library system, a nationally award-winning group of 33 libraries; you can request things through us from all of them by internet, by phone, or in person. We have the resources of a large, robust system and the community responsiveness of a stand-alone public library.

Please tell us about the types of programs and services you offer. Are there any specific programs or classes for children, teens, or adults?
San Marcos Library has something going on every day. Check out our calendar at or pick up a print copy at the library. For adults we have everything from culinary and art classes to book clubs and writers groups to citizenship and English classes and musical events. Our Teen Thursdays programs bring in 30 to 40 teens to have fun, learn new skills, and meet new people. Our kids section is the highest circulating children’s collection in the County Library. Our amazing and magical children’s staff and volunteers host storytimes in five languages for preschool, toddlers, and babies. We even do an eBook storytime. Active afterschool programs include our popular Chess Club, teen videogaming, May Physical Fitness and Wellness month, and science/technology-based exploration for families. We have a great used bookstore run by the Friends of San Marcos Library.

San Marcos Branch Library At-A-Glance

Name: San Marcos Library, a branch of the San Diego County Library
Branch Manager: Ruth Ketchum
Phone: 760-891-3000

Does the library offer any services that the community would greatly benefit from but might not be aware of?
We have multicultural, multilingual programs and events to celebrate and share the diverse cultures of San Marcos. We also have a growing eBook collection you can download to just about any device, including your phone, for free. Free classes are available in everything from art to English to yoga. We have some major events including the Lunar New Year Celebration, Physical Fitness and Wellness Month in May, and OctoberBash!, our literary-themed Fall Festival (last year we built a castle in the library!). The library provides full, free wireless and we don’t mind if you bring in your cup of coffee. A Discovery Center special early learning environment is great for kids ages five and under and families. Local artists’ work is displayed on our Art Wall. Our Link+ system means you can request and borrow books and movies from libraries all over California, including university libraries. We offer free passes to four popular North County museums.

library_6Can you describe some technological advancements the library has gone through?
Our RFID express checkout system allows you to check out three or four books at a time, and you can renew your books right here or online anywhere from 20 to 50 times each. Our state-of-the-art book return system (from Finland!) checks in and sorts automatically so our turnaround time to get books back on the shelf is really fast. You can go on our online catalog at or download our app and renew and request books or movies 24/7. We offer a variety of online databases, including, World Book, and Mango Languages, a free language learning program. With the internet we have access to information and libraries all over the world.

How is the library funded?
By San Diego County from property tax revenue and donations from the Friends of the San Marcos Library. We get occasional grants and individual donations.


From left to right: Resty Crisostomo, Kathy Jung, JoAnne Stout, Jessica Socha, Ruth Ketchum, Lula McLemore, Tammy Bell, Fred Rosen, and Joe Burch. Staff not pictured: Sandra Coleman, Lisa Gates, Pat Toth, Jennifer Nolte, and Carol Alcaide.

Please tell us about your staff and what they bring to the library.
We have a great team of smart, innovative, enthusiastic, and friendly staff, whose main focus is providing excellent customer service to the San Marcos area. As branch manager, I have 33 years of library experience and have never been bored once!
Sandy is our brilliant and wonderful children’s librarian, who brings deep experience with early learning and love for kids to her every interaction with San Marcos families.
Fred is our talented assistant manager and expert reference librarian, fluent in Spanish.
Lisa, our highly efficient technical manager, has great customer service skills, trains staff, and brings kids programs that incorporate learning and creativity in every step.
Tammy grew up in San Marcos and loves this town with a passion and knowledge that shows in everything she does: she hosts the Mom’s Meet-Up and coordinates our Action Teens service learning program.
Joe and Jennifer can solve impossible tasks with grace and ease. Joe leads a delightful baby storytime and is in charge of our email notification project. Jennifer speaks beautiful Spanish.
Kathy, our brilliant and innovative teen librarian, challenges our teens (and herself) to reach higher and see farther. She’s bilingual in Chinese.
Resty recently joined us, adding super technical skills and customer service to the mix. She speaks Tagalog.
Joanne provides gracious customer service and coordinates our fantastic adult volunteers; she is also an experienced human resources professional and teaches our Resume Workshops. She speaks German.
Pat has great patience and always knows the best fiction and mysteries; ask Pat if you’re looking for a good read.
Lula joined us recently and brings wide experience in schools and libraries to her work with all ages. Her gentle sense of humor is a joy.
Carol meets every question with style and grace and can explain things with a clarity that’s astounding; she teaches our eBooks class on Sundays.
Evelyn, Jessica, and Steven are our intrepid student workers: ambitious and talented, these three will go far!

library_5What does the library’s collection consist of?
We focus on popular books and media for all ages and practical information for the layperson and students up to community college level. We loan books, eBooks, movies, music, audiobooks, and magazines.

Is the library in need of volunteers?
Yes! Last year we had 75 active volunteers and we can always use more. How can one go about volunteering or finding out about volunteer work? Come join us at the library on the last Tuesday of every month for our Volunteer Information Meeting and find out what we offer and how to sign up. If you are a teenager, our Action Teens service learning program gives you job-like experience and community service, plus it’s a lot of fun. Our amazing adult volunteers do everything from shelving and helping with children’s programs to teaching English and citizenship classes. If you have a special skill to offer, let us know!

How does the library stay connected to the community?
We just started an email blast list; if you want to be in on it sign up at or give us a call at 760-891-3000. We partner with the City of San Marcos, SMUSD, NCHS, Palomar Health, Charity Wings, San Marcos Historical Society, and other groups, and we participate in fairs and events like San Marcos Alive! We have 800 to 1,000 people walk through our doors daily and we try to talk (and listen!) with everyone who visits.

library_7If you could grant the library one wish, what would it be?
That everyone in the San Marcos area will come in and get a library card and try it out. I also wouldn’t mind adding a second floor with an expanded computer lab, larger collections, study rooms, and large performance space with a dance floor.

What is the most rewarding part about working with the library?
Never a dull moment at the public library! It’s the land of discovery: the public library is the one place where anyone can come and learn about whatever they want or need to know, without having to have a certain credential, be a certain age or certain type of person, speak a certain language, or have a certain income to participate. Everyone is welcome: the world is waiting. It’s a job worth doing and we have a good time doing it.library_4

History of the San Marcos Library from Assistant Branch Manager Lisa Gates

  • San Diego County Library was established in 1913 by the Board of Supervisors. Nine branches and a small school collection were established in the first year with more added each year.
  • The San Marcos Library first opened in a small trailer parked near the old City Hall on Richmar Street. During the 1960s it was open to the public for 17 hours a week. A “Bookmobile” visited the site twice a month for three hours.
  • In January 1972 the county remodeled a 2,000 square foot building at 131 West Richmar St. and a new home was found for the San Marcos Library.
  • Needing additional space, the San Marcos Library relocated to 847 West San Marcos Blvd. at the corner of Bent St. with 5,000 square feet on June 6, 1985.
  • Finally in 1995 the San Marcos Library moved into the San Marcos Civic Center at 2 Civic Center Dr. and has been here ever since. The library is 15,394 square feet and is open 62 hours a week, seven days a week. The San Marcos Library has the second highest circulation of library materials in the San Diego County Library system.

My, how we’ve grown! Thank you to the San Marcos community for making the San Marcos Library such a great success!